Sunday, September 30, 2007


Here is the first of two entries on my AMAZING trip to Italy (As usual, pictures are late but forthcoming):

We left Vienna on Monday evening at about 7ish. We were to take a night train to Florence, Italy. We basically took over an entire traincar full of sleeping berths except for one poor room with a few people stuck in the middle of 30 BYU students with way too much energy. I only saw these travel partners once or twice but they looked as if they wanted to hurl themselves off the train. Hahahahaha…we stayed up for a while on the train playing games and generally having a good time, spent 20 minutes or so trying to understand the randomly shaped train sheets (never figured that one out) and finally fell asleep while chugging across the Italian countryside. We were awakened at about 6:00 AM by one of the cranky train attendants and were told that we had about 30 minutes until the train arrived at it’s destination. Naturally, we all rolled back over and figured we’d sleep for 29 more minutes. Then the train stopped. We all groaned and carried on for a few minutes until someone had the bright idea to look out a window. We heard a shout from the other end of the car “Hey! This is Florence!” It slowly dawned on everyone simultaneously that we were IN Florence and that if we didn’t get off the train pronto there would be unfortunate consequences. Chaos ensued. Students running around, collecting baggage, tying shoes while hopping down the hall, fifteen girls trying to use the bathroom in less than 2 minutes. We must have been quite the sight. Fortunately, everyone in our group managed to get their luggage and get off the train safely. We walked through the dark streets of Florence until we found our hotel and found out there (at about 7:00) that we couldn’t check in until noon. Oh the horror. Everyone was either in pajamas or nasty day-old street clothes that had been slept in on the train. We rapidly gave up any idea of smelling better than garbage and just dropped our luggage and went out into the city.

First order of business was the Dome. The Dome is right smack in the middle of Florence, a cathedral with supposedly the biggest free dome in Europe. If you’ve never been to Florence, I’ll tell you that the Dome is beautiful. The inside of the church is nothing terribly spectacular after all the other cathedrals in Europe, but the exterior and the inside of the dome itself was great. We climbed the steps up into the dome, checking out the painting of Dante’s inferno (Basically people getting disemboweled in Hell. Gotta love uplifting church pieces!) and finally onto the top. This was a beautiful look over the city, with all of the rooftops, gardens and market in our view. We climbed back down the tower, nearly getting motion sick from the tight spiraling staircases, and hit up the market we saw nearby. European markets are way too much fun. Lots of people selling everything from fresh fruit to pirated goods to useless junk. Everything is worth haggling about, as they usually start selling to tourists at about twice what they’ll actually get from someone who’s not getting fleeced. I ended up with a few nice Italian ties for 2 euros apiece. Not bad.

After checking into the hotel about noonish and eating a lovely little eggplant sandwich from a street vendor, Allyson, Heather and I went back out into the city and walked. Walked walked walked. We aren’t even sure how many miles we put on that day. We found a recommended (by my great little “Cheap eats in Italy” book) Gelato shop and tried the local specialty. Woohoo! Gelato was a hit. The fruit flavors we tried we intense. Gelato, incidentally, ended up being the weakness of many a young lady in our group. I have heard tales of upwards of nine scoops a day for some in Italy. I liked it, but not quite THAT much. Frozen custard still holds my crown as best frozen dessert. Later in the evening we went to Michaelangelo Piazza, a square on a hill overlooking the city and took in the sunset. At this point hunger was rapidly setting in and we followed a road back into the hills looking for a particular restaurant. An hour and a half later we gave up. We dragged our poor starving bodies all the way back into town, nearly fainting and stopped at one of the finest Neapolitan pizza places in town. We made a reservation for a half-hour later and found a clean patch of cement to collapse on during the wait. The pizza was worth all the starvation (Probably partially because of our intense hunger) and we polished off the day with a bit more Gelato.

Florence is a beautiful town. It is set amidst tree-covered hills and still holds a very renaissance feeling. This is where the Medici family really kick-started the arts and intellectualism that fueled the Italian renaissance. The who’s who list in Florence includes Michaelangelo, Donatello, Dante, Machiavelli and just goes on and on.

Wednesday: More walking. We started with a return to the market and then tried as hard as could to get lost. It worked fairly well, and took several hours to return to where we could figure out where we were. After a while we returned to the hotel to drop stuff off and prepare for the evening. We found a park in the area, played around a while on the swings and ran around like five-year-olds. Great fun. I think all of the Italians in the area thought us a bit strange but I’m sure they just dismissed us as crazy tourists and let it go. Florence is packed with an unreal amount of tourists. I was blown away. Going anywhere near the Dome in midday is like reliving the life of a canned sardine. It’s like a giant moshpit. Bleh. I don’t like tourist crowds much.

Our entire group met at the Uffizi museum at 4:20 to get in as a group. We got in at 5ish and just sort of dispersed. Allyson and I, not knowing as much as we possibly should about art, kind of just meandered around looking at things and having very little idea why they were important. The art is impressive, mind you, but a painting of some guy who was a random doctor in the 1600s has never really done it for me. After a while we decided there were better things to do and took off. We were quite hungry and looked for some type of fruit stand or market. We found a place with a little old Italian guy selling some fresh fruit and expected that to work out well but NO! This was one mean old Italian dude. I was picking up the fruit trying to decide which pear to buy and he completely freaked out on me. Started shouting at me to not touch the fruit and slipping back and forth in between Italian and English. Whoa…since when can you not touch fresh fruit at a fruit stand? It’s not fine art, my friend. Take a chill pill. I’m not just going to buy a piece of fruit because someone tells me it’s ripe…I decided to not buy anything there and moved on. We did find a little grocery store and picked up a little something there, including a pear that was nice and ripe (I’d know, I checked them all).

After finding some food we went on a hunt for cake. Our goal was to find a super-rich chocolate cake and somewhere to sit as it had started to drizzle a bit. We had no specific destination in mind, as we prefer to see where random roads lead, as we headed out on the search for cake. First we stopped at a little bar/lounge. The proprietor was very kind and re-opened the restaurant portion of his place for us to have some cake. I had cheesecake, Allyson carrot cake. The cake was fantastic and actually fairly cheap. We weren’t satisfied in our craving for sweets and went out again. At this point it was really starting to get going with the rain. We discovered that Liesl had conveniently forgotten her poncho in my bag and we used it to shield ourselves as we ran around the city. Again, the Italians must have been amused by two Americans running around holding a poncho over their heads trying to stay somewhat dry. We found a little coffee shop and bought a cake-like thing (Actually it turned out to be a bowl of frozen cream puffs covered in dark chocolate and hazelnuts) but when we bought it they told us we had to wait at least an hour to eat it. Well, we couldn’t wait that long so as we continued our poncho-and-now-cake-holding journey, we stopped into another café and got some pastries to hold us over until we could devour our chocolately treat. I got a pear-chocolate pastry that was surprisingly yummy and Allyson had a pineapple filled treat. When we eventually arrived at the hotel we messily plowed into our creampuff loveliness and got chocolate all over ourselves. After we had made ourselves completely ill we grudgingly shared the chocolate with others (making darn good friends in the process) and tried to convince our stomachs to forgive us.

Thursday morning we felt a little guilty for not having visited most of Florence’s museums and tourist attractions so we decided to join a large group going to the Academia in the morning. This is where the famous “David” by Michaelangelo is housed. It’s actually a fairly small museum, though impressive, and we were back out on the streets in no time. We continued our pattern of getting lost, but this time to the south. We walked past the Medici palace and gardens and just kept trucking until we found ourselves in the hills outside the city. This place was gorgeous. Beautiful windy streets, small towns, parks, fountains, hills, everything you could want. We took loads of pictures. Eventually we were a good 3-4 inches off the city map and the time was running short so we tried to find out where we were and how to get back. We stopped at a restaurant with a little map, asked for directions at a lovely hotel and managed to bump into a bus stop. Just as we walked towards the bus stop we heard a HUGE crack of thunder. A bus pulled up immediately, almost magically, and we stepped on as the heavens opened and the rains came down. As we watched from the dryness of the bus, the streets were literally filled with water and hail. Incredible timing. We weren’t sure exactly where the bus was going, but by speaking my lousy Spanish to the Italians I ascertained that it would, eventually, end up somewhere in Florence. We got off the bus in an area that seemed fairly well-used by tourists and, incredibly, were fairly close to our hotel. We lucked out all over the place that day. That night we were to jump a train to Venice but before we left we wanted to eat some lunch/dinner. We stopped at a good-looking restaurant with tomatoes and mushrooms in the window (I’m a sucker for restaurants with fresh tomatoes and mushrooms in the window. Works every time.) Once we got inside and were looking at the menu, Allyson pointed out a dish to me with truffles. TRUFFLES! I’ve been looking all over for those! One of my goals in coming to Europe, Italy especially, was to eat truffles. I ordered it in anticipation. Truffles have always been described to me as an amazing eating experience and I was not let down at all. They are fantastic. They are unlike anything else, and therefore impossible to describe, but they taste good and the smell coming off the sauce they were in was seriously like crack cocaine. I spent more time smelling my food than I did eating it. Very cool.

We grabbed our luggage, met up with the group and hopped on the train for Venice. Venice! How cool!

I’ve failed to mention that I was getting sick at this point. I’d had a slightly sore throat in Florence and on the way to Venice it decided to get serious. My nose was running and I had congestion. I wasn’t about to let that happen, though, so I took some cold pills and told it to go away. That worked marginally well.

I didn’t get really excited about Venice until we started across the narrow bridge that leads to the islands that are Venice. At that point I was running around the train, looking out the window and basically acting like a 9-year-old with a new toy. Venice! I’ve wanted to go to Venice for a loooong, long time.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Too cool. Check it out! Not related to Vienna at all. (Actually, it is. I offer a prize for anyone who ca tell me how.)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Best week EVER!

Well heavens. I haven’t written for a while, but that’s mostly because I’ve been on a trip to Salzburg and the surrounding areas. We left Wednesday morning and just got back tonight. The trip was the most amazing experience I’ve had in my entire life. I know that’s saying a lot but I’ll explain and once you get the entire story you’ll understand.

Wednesday morning we hopped on a bus and headed out. First stop was Mauthausen. Mauthausen was a Nazi concentration camp in Austria during the second World War. I’m not sure what to say about it. If you’ve been to such a place you’d understand. I have no idea how people could treat others in that way. Somehow it seems that the people responsible for the atrocities committed there had completely lost sight of their (and their prisoners’) humanity. Very frightening and sickening. Literally. I got a bit physically ill just being there and had to sit for a while. Hideous. However, in a more poignant moment, Allyson and I went out into the meadow next to the camp and picked lovely little wildflowers and it provided a great contrast of beauty next to the ugliness we’d just experienced. In the camp we would walk into a room, see the walls and it would slowly dawn on us that people (hundreds if not thousands) had suffered and died looking at those walls. Very quickly sobering. Some in our group were able to stay fairly objective and treat the place like a museum but I was not. I skipped the movie at the end of the tour because I had basically seen all I ever wanted to see and already learned the important lessons that such a place is there to remind us of.

We left Mauthausen and continued on our bus down to the lake/mountain region of Austria. The town we were visiting and staying in that night is called Halstatt. It is an ancient town (now somewhat more modern) perched on the edge of a mountain, clinging to the rocks so as not to fall into the beautiful alpine lake. The single prettiest town I have ever seen in my entire life. Allyson and I managed to take over 1000 pictures on our trip so I ought to be able to find one or two good ones soon. Anyhow, we got to Halstatt and basically had the afternoon to wander around and do what we would. Allyson, Anne, Brian and I walked up a down the town for a while, taking pictures and repeating words like “Wow” and “Amazing” ad nauseum. Later that evening we ate dinner in a cool restaurant with ivy all over the exterior and growing into the interior through the windows, fish heads and game mounted on the wall and waiters in lederhosen. Allyson and I split a dish of roast venison that was spectacular. It was cooked perfectly and came with several sauces, well cooked vegetables, beet sauerkraut, baked apples stuffed with cranberries and potatoes. I really thought I’d died and gone to heaven. We wandered around for a while after dark, taking in the nighttime air and sights before heading into bed. Interesting to see the contrast of the most beautiful place experiences of my life and the ugliest place I’ve ever been to falling on the same day.

Thursday we got up early and visited the salt mines near Halstatt. These mines have been working since 5000 B.C. How about that? It was great to take the tour through them, which included fun slides and sneaking away from the tour guide to lick the salty wall (mmmm….). They had underground light shows in some of the chambers, pretty nifty. Back in town we visited a church full of skulls and saw the prettiest graveyard ever. Each grave had a carefully cultivated and unique flowerbed growing on it. Eventually we tearfully (Ok, there weren’t any tears but it was darn close) left Halstatt, visited a old church with amazing woodcarvings in some-town-with-a-German-name-that-I-can’t-remember and ended up in Salzburg at about 5ish in the afternoon. Salzburg is a wonderful town world-renowned for being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and for being the locale of “Sound of Music”. (More people know of the latter than the former fact. Sad commentary on society.) Salzburg isn’t as pretty as Halstatt (a fate shared by most places on earth) but has a lot of history and some amazing sights, sounds and smells. The main square was full of little booths with craftsmen doing their trades. Blacksmiths, clock makers, pastry chefs (MMMM!!!! Warm fig pastries!!!!) and leatherworkers plied their art right in front of our very eyes. I loved that part of town. That night we went to dinner at a place that’s name had something to do with Monkeys and had some good food. Allyson and I split (something we do quite frequently, as it allows for more tasting) an herbal cream soup and a dish that was toasted bread with cured bacon and grated horseradish on it. Tasty tasty tasty. As you can see, seeing beautiful sights and eating good food was pretty much the name of the game. Another good (long) day; we went home, wrote in journals and staggered off to bed.

Friday: morning guided walking tour of Salzburg, saw all of the main attractions and figured out what we wanted to go back and see more in depth. We got to see cathedrals, houses of famous people, gardens and beer-soaked festivals. What could be better? After the tour we climbed up one of the local hills, Mönchsberg, looked out over the city and took more good pictures. The climb was a lot of fun. We came down off the mountain and went to Mirabel gardens (the do-re-mi song gardens). There was a nifty little playground that we played in for a bit, a labyrinth and lots of carefully manicured flowers. More exploring of the city in the afternoon. We visited the nearby fortress on top of a mountain and ate dinner there. Dinner was vegetable strudel and four types of Viennese sausages. Very local and authentic, exactly what we wanted. We ate at the castle wall on a cliff, overlooking a huge valley. Every once in a while I still have to remind myself that this is all real! We bussed our way to the hotel to get jackets and things for the evening and then went to dessert. Big story there. We went to St. Peters, established in 802 A.D. No typo there. The place is over 1200 years old. Charlemagne ate there. Possibly the oldest restaurant in the world. The restaurant was so incredible. The inside was something straight out of an expensive magazine. What did we order?

Salzburg Nockerl!

What the heck else? We’re in Salzburg, for pete’s sake! Salzburg Nockerl, for the uninitiated, is a baked meringue type dessert with cranberries baked in and raspberry sauce over the top. I’ve been hearing Mom talk about it for years. It was like a dream. Very rich, very tasty. Allyson and I were totally defeated by it and unable to eat the whole thing. I was, at that moment, quite possibly as happy as a person can even be. 1200-year-old restaurant, night air, perfect decorations and lighting, eating Salzburg Nockerl with an amazing girl. Straight out of a movie, I swear. Once in a lifetime kind of night.

Saturday: Woke up, did the breakfast thing and met a group of kids to take a picture on a big, cool tree that we had seen the day before in a park. We walked around the gardens a bit more and proceeded to Mozart’s house. The tour through Mozart’s house included seeing some of his instruments, original scores and listening to a lot of his pieces. Very cool for a rapidly blossoming classical music nut. After the tour we got another fresh fig pastry (MMMM!!!) as a sort of midday snack. After checking out the shopping area of Salzburg (finding several articles of clothing and other items that we wanted that would each cost over a thousand dollars. Each. Anyone want to buy me a handcrafted accordion?) and watching some guys in funny alpine outfits do some local dances, we went back to St. Peters. We got some appetizers and soups (won’t take the time to explain; simply know that they were the most artistic, unique and tasty foods I’ve ever eaten. If you want to know more ask me about it). We grudgingly walked back to our hotel, sensing our impending doom and hopped on the bus back to Vienna. I know, it’s stupid to be disappointed about going to Vienna, but after all this can you blame me? Honestly?

Stay tuned:

We’re off to Italy next week! Holy overwhelmingness!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Remember the Vienna woods?

Here's the woods!

A selection of pictures, in no discernible order:

Weiner Hütte!

Stephansdom tower

Inside Stephansdom

Pizza. They're REALLY into pizza here

Overlooking the Danube in Vienna

Outside...some pretty building

On a bench, looking happy

Like a bad penny...

Gee. Two busy days. It’s been good. I’ll start with yesterday: Got up fairly early and got to the Institute where we did homework and played around on the internet until class started at 9:30. German class for an hour and then our European Fine Arts class. For Fine Arts our teacher took us to Karlskirche, a large cathedral here in Vienna. I’ve been to several cathedrals all over Europe but this was much different. Most cathedrals are gothic style but this was baroque. Baroque style is much warmer, using oranges and reds and natural light to give the impression that one is arrived in heaven on earth. The coolest part is that they are redoing the inside of the dome in Karls and have a scaffolding up all the way into the top. They have an elevator and allow people to go up into the dome. Very cool. To see the paintings on the ceiling up close and go into the dome to see the sight of the city was quite worthwhile. I’ve really enjoyed the fine arts class so far, even with my limited background in art.

Talked to my lovely sister for a bit...she's moving. (Boo! Booooo!!!)

After this we had our “experiencing Vienna” class at the outreach center. Kind of a boring class, but that’s ok. It gets a lot of the administrative stuff out of the way for our trips and such and sometimes we get money. Never a bad thing.

Several people in the group left the outreach center to go climb the tower of Stephansdom cathedral and I decided to go with. The tower is about 350 steps in a spiral staircase to the top. Bit of a grunt, really. I went with Emily, David, Andrew, Stephanie and Ellen. The view was actually not so spectacular after Karlskirche but the climb itself was fun and it was good to get out with some folks. I’ve really been trying to figure out who I’m going to hang out with for this whole trip and it hasn’t been easy thus far. We ran to a café after the climb down and the girls had ice cream while we watched a clown run amok in the town square and basically terrorize unsuspecting passers-by. He was quite good. Everyone either loved him or hated him and I suppose that’s the measure of a good clown.

Later that night we were all going to a very old church, built in the 1100s, called Ruprechtskirche for a concert of old instruments. Andrew and I headed over a bit later than everyone else and found that everyone had bailed. Turns out the concert that we thought was free was actually 11 euro ($15.50). Taylor showed up and we decided to abandon our reservations about cost and do it. They concert consisted of a Theorbe, a Cembalo, a Harpsichord and two Viola de Gambas. It was very, very interesting to hear the old music played on the original instruments. It was crazy to sit there and realize that I was sitting in a 1000-year-old church listening to 1700s music being played. Wow. The last piece was one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard. Very much worth the 11 euros. I’m going to try and find the piece on the internet somehow.

I was anticipating today. We went down into the Danube valley to ride bikes along the river. Cool, eh? We had to get up at 5:00 AM. Not cool, eh? We met at the institute at 7:00, boarded a bus and rolled out to Melk. We first visited the Babenburg palace-turned-monastery there. It was cool. These people sure knew how to put together a fancy building! Then we headed down to a hotel to pick up our bikes and get on the ride. I was basically by myself for a while in the monastery until Anne, Allyson and I started hanging out. It was raining when we got our bikes and I was a bit skeptical about riding 35-40 kilometers in the rain. We started to ride, however, and the rain cleared up rather quickly. The weather continued to improve all day leading to a glorious afternoon.

Did I mention that the Danube valley is unequivocally the most beautiful place on earth? Yeah. Better than Montana (*gasp* Blasphemy!), better than Southern Spain (Is that possible?!). Completely, absolutely and totally breathtaking. It is a huge fertile valley chock full of picturesque villages, terraced mountainside vineyards and lush fruit orchards. We had to stop every few KMs to buy fruit from one of the locals. Wine grapes, fresh plums, apples, we ate it all. Allyson, Anne and I took a very leisurely pace and just wandered around the little towns stopping to take pictures of everything. The entire valley is one big postcard, I swear. It was like walking around in a dream. I can’t adequately describe it. Toss in the beautiful flowers and landscape and the authentic and fresh bakeries and we basically spent the day in heaven. Take dinner as an example: Dense rye bread, cheese and herb spread and ham. Yum. Perfect weather, perfect scenery, perfect transportation, perfect food. PERFECT!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Weiner literally means Wien-er

Friday, September 7, 2007

Another dreary, cold rainy day. Today we had “dinner” with our host Mom at 12:00 so we just decided to have a slow morning in the house. We woke up, lollygagged around, went shopping at a nearby grocery store…

Good story there. We went to the Hofer down the street quite a ways. We took the bus/streetcar to get there and spent some time getting our groceries. At Hofer, as well as most grocery stores in Europe, you either have to bring your own bag or buy one at the register. We didn’t have bags so we bought them. Nice big paper bags. Unfortunately, one of the things that I didn’t realize is that paper bags and rain don’t really do well together. When we got on the streetcar my bag started to go kaput. One of the handles ripped off. So, during the 15-minute walk home I had to carry my bag with both arms and as soon as I walked in the front door the bag exploded and stuff went everywhere. It was totally in tatters. Pretty funny, actually.

“Dinner” consisted of some sort of meatloaf thing cooked in a sauce with bacon. It was really quite good. Very rich and hearty, like most food here in Austria. We also had a soup, a potato dish and a salad. I was given serving after serving until I thought I would explode. That was actually kind of nice, as serving sizes are not usually all that large here in Europe and meat is expensive. As bad as it is, it was nice to stuff myself silly on meat.

After dinner we lazed a bit and then finally wandered into town. We went to the institute to use the internet and there joined up with a group going to the 7:00 showing of the Magic Flute by Mozart. We were doing the standing place thing again and had to stand in line for 3 hours. This time I was a bit more prepared and didn’t mind the waiting nearly as much. Plus we had a few more people in our group and it was more fun than waiting for Carmen.

The Opera itself was REALLY good. I absolutely loved it. It was funny, happier more touching and much faster paced than the other operas I’ve seen. Best one by a long shot. It didn’t feel long like the others did at all. Enjoyed every minute. There really seemed to be a lot of interesting things to think about hidden behind the fairly simple story. I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. It actually reminded me of the movie “stardust”; different plot but same lighthearted yet serious storyline. I’d love to see it again.

After the opera we walked around Vienna: the rain has stopped! I’m so happy! It’s so nice to not get wet every time I go outside! Hoorah!

Since Friday:
Saturday was quite fun. We went to the Naschmarkt, a sweet little flea market. I bought a little sidebag there for the days when I don't need my million pound backpack. After the market a few of the girls suggested a sweet restaurant out in the woods south of Vienna. We rode the train, the bus and hiked for a while before arriving at the wooded hill that we would climb to the top of to go to the restuarant. It was called the Weiner Hütte. Great place. Good food, cheaper than I've seen in all of europe. We all ate a great meal for about 6-7 euros each. Most places you're looking at 10-12. After the meal we hiked back down, stopping to take some fun pictures.
After the hike we went to the host's of three girls in our group and hung out there for the evening. It was really fun. We watched comedy shorts, talked, generally just chillin'. It was good to spend a little quality time with some friends. Anyhow, a good time indeed.
Sunday was Stake Conference was Sunday. Fortunately they had English translation which allowed me to actually get something out of it. That was nice. I will say, however, that the Stake President's address was by far the oddest stake conference talk I have EVER heard. Very strange. (Long story, if you're interested ask me...) AFter church my roomie, David, and I went to some cool looking church we saw from the train station. We still don't know what it's called but it was very nice. There was a basketball court next to the church in a park. I nearly wet myself. That's the first court I've seen in almost a month! Now I just need a basketball...
We had our religion class at the director's place later that night and then went home and crashed.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Operatic adventures!

Thursday, Sep 6. 2007

Pretty slow day. It is still quite rainy and cold, which doesn’t really motivate one to be active and do a lot of sightseeing. German class was cancelled for the morning and so we didn’t have class until 2:00. In the morning I went to the institute and basically hung out there until class. I did some reading, finished some homework for history class and caught up on the latest college football happenings. After history class I finally was able to catch Mom online and we chatted for about 20-30 minutes. That was nice. We didn’t get the audio working but that’s ok. I was in a public room and I’m not sure they would have appreciated the conversation anyhow. (of course, in a similar situation I was able to listen to a girl talk mushy-talk with her fiancée for about 20 minutes…wanted to stab myself with my pencil to end the madness. Seriously, they spent 5 minutes arguing about who missed the others’ voice more. Bleh!)

Last night the big plan was for a group to get together and go to the Opera to see Carmen. We are, of course, cheapo students, and opt for the standing room tickets in the nether regions of the opera hall. Do grab these hot pieces of real estate you basically just have to get in line 2-3 hours early. So, we jumped in line at 4:30. I was assured that we could just get through the line quickly, grab some tickets, mark our spots and then head back out into town until the opera started at 7. Good thing, too, because I was getting pretty hungry. Well, it wasn’t until I read the opera ticket manual that I found out that the standing room (stehplatz) tickets wouldn’t even start selling until 5:45. Egad. So, over an hour later, the line started to move slowly and sometime around 6 we finally got our tickets. I was absolutely famished and excited to get out and find some food but…nope. Turns out once you get your tickets you have to show them to get your standing room spot and then there’s no turning back. “The point of no return”, to quote an operatic tale. So I just slowly starved to death in my spot for an hour until the show started. Beautiful building, by the way.

Anyhow, the performance started and it was indeed marvelous. We enjoyed the first two acts immensely. We found some of the other kids from our program across the hall from us and talked to them for a bit. Amusingly, they thought Carmen only had two acts and left after the second. Whoops. It has four. We stayed for the whole thing (3.5 hours of standing got a bit old after all that time in line…). Really quite enjoyable, especially towards the end when people start going insane and there are stabbings. There were several famous songs that I had no idea were in Carmen. Having just been to southern spain, which is the setting for the Opera, I especially enjoyed watching it with my background experience on Flamenco, bullfighting and Spanish culture. Good stuff. Oh, and did I mention that the performance only cost 2 euros ($2.70)? Pretty good bargain!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Drowned in a rat-like fashion!

Random journal excerpts masquerading as a Blog entry:

Tuesday Sep. 4 - Finished the Bertrand Russell book last night, started the Merleau-Ponty book “Phenomenology of Perception” today. Much denser than Russell but so far fairly rewarding (still in the preface….hahahaha). This morning had German class, my skills are still coming back well. I am pleased about that. Went to an Italian place for lunch…there are absolutely LOADS of Italian places here. I had a pizza with bacon and corn on it. Not great cuisine but still pretty tasty. After that headed to the outreach center (LDS institute) and attended our “experiencing Vienna” class and the german conversation class. I’m not sure I’ll continue in the German convo class as I don’t really want to have a certain number of required hours of German to achieve a particular grade. Seems a bit oppressive. On the other hand, I do need the German practice and this would be a good way to make sure I do it, but hey, I am here partially to have a stress-free good time, right? Hmmmm…..

Dinner consisted of a fruit-yogurt drink and some bread with Liverwurst. Not bad fare for a few euros. We went to the Opera to get in line for the Barber of Seville but it wasn’t taking people for the standing room tonight. Private performance or some such nonsense. So we tried to find a plan “B”. I found one, and a darn good one if I may be so bold. We got lost a bit but finally found the concert house where we attended a performance of the Weiner Kammerphilharmonker. It was simply incredible. They performed a Mozart piece, a Mendelssohn piece and finished it off with Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7. Beethoven is amazing. He plays with emotions more than any other composer I’ve ever heard. I loved it. Got ahold of a schedule for the concert and some people that want to go fairly often so I’ll probably try to take advantage of that and continue to expand my knowledge of classical music.

Wednesday, Sep 5: Bratislava Day

We arrived in Bratislava at about 10:30 and I tried to feel out a decent group to visit the city with. I wound up with Andrew and some girls (with a 7 to 1 ration of girls to guys, we're always outnumbered). The group went to the Primate’s palace, which has nothing to do with monkeys or apes, and then split off for individual activities for 6 hours. Did I mention that it had been raining lightly all day? Well, once we split off, it started to get REAL nasty. Wind, rain, cold, the whole shebang. First stop was lunch, as we were all famished. We went to a Spanish (In Slovakia?) restaurant and I had rabbit. It was a total rip-off. The food wasn’t bad, but it cost waaaay more than advertised and wasn’t quite worth it. We visited a castle on the hill that was actually quite a letdown, as we really didn’t see anything of note except an 85-meter deep well.

We went into St. Martin’s church, where most of the big names in Hapsburg history were crowned and saw a few cool things in there. There was an area dug up with glass over it in which there were skeletons in the ground and a crypt with coffins and the like. Definitely worth the 25 crowns (roughly 1 dollar). We continued to slog through the rain, stopping in a lovely old orthodox church to dry off. The church was just starting a mass so we stayed and watched/listened for a while. It was very cool to see the mass in Slovakian and hear their sermon, service and prayers. One of the most enjoyable parts of the day.

Finally we wandered around, found a grocery store to use the last of our crowns (dinner was about 1/10th the price of lunch. Ouch.) and finally found a street car to take us back to the train station. At this point we were freezing, wet and exhausted. I crashed on the train, sleeping all the way back. Then it was merely a matter of David and I taking our usual 45-minute journey home, walking through the rain a bit and finally getting back to our nice little German house. Long day but well worth the effort!

Bratislava was cool. Much rougher than Vienna...lots of graffiti and a bit more run down. It was interesting but I think the next few trips (Salzburg, Budapest, Italy) will be much longer and more eventful.

Today: Raining all day, very dreary. I am pretty much hanging out doing homework, reading philosophy books and using the internet at AAIE. I have history class at 2:00 and then perhaps the opera or something else amusing. I'll get some pictures up on here at some point...

Monday, September 3, 2007

Out of order

I may, eventually, get around to continuing my sordid tale of the trip around Europe, but I thought everyone would appreciate a little update about Vienna. This from Friday:

We arrived in Vienna yesterday at 8:30ish. We arrived in the Westbahnhof train station, which was actually different than we had told our group director. We were supposed to arrive in the Sudbahnhof station, which explained why we waited for an hour for someone to pick us up to no avail. Turns out they wouldn’t have picked us up either way, as we were supposed to just make our way to the institute to meet everyone by about 12:00. Finally we got into the metro system (we’d become pros at the metros in Europe by this point and found our way to the AAIE. Took a minute to find, but it wasn’t difficult as it was right next to the StaatOpera in downtown Vienna. We arrived and slowly a few other students started to straggle in. Most of the group came from the US together and so they all showed up at the same time with Dr. Hansen. To be perfectly frank, I appreciated the entire group showing up. I had enjoyed my trip and time with Andrew, Ellen and Kimberlee but I was definitely ready to expand my social circle a bit. The nice part is that the 4 of us are still great friends but probably get along better now that we don’t have to be around each other 24/7.

Vienna is very nice. It’s a bit like Paris with the architecture and style but seems a little smaller and cleaner. Thus far I’ve been VERY impressed with the cleanliness and apparent safety of the city. Of course you can still do stupid stuff and get into a lot of trouble but frankly, if you’re smart, you’ll be ok.

After the entire group arrived I looked around and was a bit shocked. 4 guys, 27 girls. Talk about weird. It’s strange to think that guys are in that much of a minority. I’m no ladies man, but with that many females I think I may actually do all right in that department for the first time in my life. Hahahahahaha….. We have one guy in our group who is rapidly becoming the ladies’ favorite (Ty) but I imagine as soon as they all settle down and stop fighting over him like a bunch of starving animals on the Serengeti us other guys will start looking better and better. Other than Ty the big suave guy there is Andrew the hyperactive film freak and David the tall quiet dude. As I told the other guys, we each get 7 girls so no one get greedy. That should be plenty.

After we arrived we went on a little walk aroud the city to keep all of the plane folks awake until nighttime (to combat jetlag) and got some dessert. My first taste of Vienna was an apple strudel. Definitely impressive. I’m going to like this town. The girls, of course, are all freaking out about the gelato, but let’s face it: you don’t come to Vienna for ice cream. Baked treats, my friends. Baked treats.

We stopped by Stefansdom, the large cathedral in the middle of Wien and looked around for abit and proceeded on to Peter’s something-or-other, another church. We arrived at 3:00 which happened to be the exact time they were starting an organ concert, which sounded very good. Sadly the group left after one piece and I had no choice but to follow. Blasted. I am EXTREMELY excited about the music in this town. Everybody talks about the upcoming concerts, there are ticket vendors for operas and ballets on every corner; basically these people are freaks for classical and that’s awesome. Mozart is basically the city’s patron saint at this point. Between that and the food I feel like I’ve finally found a town slightly more suited to my interests. Now if only I could find a well-populated basketball court…

We grabbed little luggage and headed to our hotel, the pension baronesse. Nice place. All the amenities. All four of the guys stayed in the same room with our own bathroom and that worked out well. Andrew and I hopped into the shower immediately, as an unfortunate side effect of out three day night train and Switzerland experience was no showers for 72 hours. Lots of interesting odors. The shower water was actually brown and filmy as it drained. Not a pretty site. I also shaved for the first time in weeks. That took a while…

The AAIE took us out to dinner to a very nice Italian place with quite authentic food. I got a Bella Napoli pizza which basically was a crust with tomato sauce baked and then they throw on fresh cherry tomatoes, some kind of light spinach, spices, chunks of buffalo mozzarella and cured ham. The whole thing was beautiful and tasted even better. One of the best meals I’ve had to date. (That’s saying quite a bit, mind you) After dinner we returned to the hotel, played around on the internet and eventually crashed into our beds.

This morning we woke at about 8ish, dressed, and headed down for a continental breakfast provided by the hotel in the basement. The breakfast was significantly better than expected. There were several kinds of juices, breads, jams, cheeses, meats, fancy cereals, toast, hot chocolate, fruit….on and on. I ate a ton (for the first time ever in Europe. In fact, this was probably the first time I’d had two decently large meals in a row in my entire trip)

We left for the institute and sat around there for a few hours listening to orientation stuff. Pretty boring, really, but important information was mixed in and it was worthwhile to wade through all the easy garbage to get the crucial info for our stay here. One of the directors of the program took us on a practical tour of the area, showing us grocery stores and post offices and the like followed by a stop for lunch at the local market, Kunsmarkt. There we sampled some eastern cuisine (a sort of gyro style falafel sandwich). We returned to the institute like a herd of cattle and sat through more boring orientation information before going upstairs to meet our families. David Scoville and I are staying with a woman named Hedy Drapal in the 17th bizirk. She is a widow of a philharmonic clarinet soloist who lives by herself. Very nice lady, probably in her 70s. We had a tour of the house, talked about the house rules and she left us to unpack. Had a good dinner of schnitzel and talked (half in broken English and half in bad german) for an hour or so. We gave her the gifts we’d brought and headed to the third floor which is sort of our domain. That’s where I am now, sitting here at 8:40 and wondering what on earth I’ll do with myself tonight. I’m not entirely used to going to bed before midnight.

------------------Back to reality---------------------

Ok, so here I am in the present. I am currently sitting in the lovely little building that is the LDS institute, enjoying their free internet, snacks provided by kind senior missionaries and air conditioning. It really is a great place to call home in the city since my "home" is 45 minutes away from the city center and really only where I sleep.

I went to church on Sunday. It was a cool little building in the suburb area. The people were super nice but the fact of the matter is I was completely and utterly lost for 3 hours. It's VERY hard to stay awake when you don't understand much of anything. Occasionally an American would speak "gringo" german and I caught a little bit but usually I just stared and wondered. Things can only go up in that department.

Classes started today. We had our first german class followed by a bit more orientation, me wandering around Vienna looking for a grocery store (Lunch: an apple-swiss sandwich. Interesting!) and then european history. Not sure what I'll do for the rest of the afternoon. Perhaps read my new Bertrand Russell book I picked up and wait for institute? More wandering around Vienna? The nicest part about this trip is the lack of work/responsibilities and the opportunity I have to do whatever I want and pursue my interests. So far very refreshing!